Change = stress, but does it have to?

Change is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. What’s your reaction to these words? I doubt that it’s wholehearted agreement for two reasons.

Firstly, the way my therapy clients respond to change. Often, they see it as a threat and attempt to resist. Change and how to cope with it is often a factor that causes clients to seek therapy.

Secondly, I’ve recently encountered a series of small changes. My hairdresser who does a great cut decided to close her business and move to the coast. Two significant figures in the running of the community choir I sing in have decided to step down from their roles. Both have done a great job but are now moving on in different ways.

You might say these are not huge life changing happenings and I agree. They do however require adjustment on my part.

Why do we find change stressful?

Because it requires adjustment. This can be mental physical and social. Do you remember starting senior school? I do. It requires adjustment from being one of the oldest children at school to being one of the youngest.

Most significant for me was the earlier start required. I now had a 25 minute bus journey in the mornings not the 10 minute walk I was accustomed to.
Drs Holmes and Rahe in 1967 created a stress table of life events. They gave each stress points. This was to show how stressful the event was and how much adjustment was required. The most stressful event they considered to be the loss of one’s life partner. Change of home, job, health problems were also listed in order of how much stress they caused.

It often surprises people to know that holidays and Christmas appear in the stress table. Although most people consider these happy events they require adjustment and can cause stress.

Change comes in two forms the changes we choose and those we don’t. The changes we choose are the least stressful.

So how can we best deal with change?

Don’t waste time and energy on resisting change. You could use it on finding the benefits in the new situation. Most people fear change because they see it as threat rather than opportunity.

Look back at previous changes in your life. Chances are that some unwanted changes turned out well for you.
Experiencing lots of changes within a short time causes more stress than when they are spaced out. So, if you were intending to get married, move house and change your occupation giving yourself time to adjust to each before moving onto the next would be helpful.

Try to keep plans flexible so that they can be adjusted to cope with unexpected change. This also allows you to take advantages of opportunities arising.

Control what you can. None of us can control everything in life. Most people have more control than they imagine. For example- Emma fears she is likely to be made redundant. She can take her mind off it with too much alcohol and partying. Not a good idea.

Or she can research other job opportunities, retraining. The feared redundancy may never happen but if it does Emma is in a strong position to deal with it.

I’m not referring here to devastating situations such as the loss of a loved one. These require time, acceptance and eventually a feeling of comfort from the relationship shared.

We can’t control what life throws at us. We can control our response and create our future.

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